“NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT”… and Antidotes

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Purported Wildlife Refuge — Waterfowl-Killing Guide and Flood Remnants, Scott’s Landing, near Smithville, NJ

 

Does it seem to anyone else as though the sun never shines?

Literally and metaphorically, I mean…

Seems as though every excursion planned with any of the Intrepids is either diminished or actually cancelled, by weather.

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How to Kill and Make a Killing, Scott’s Landing and Atlantic City, NJ

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that what I must do, [whether to flee personal tragedies beyond bearing, let alone the current political situation in this former “land of the free”], is to take intensive, day-long, nature pilgrimages.

On February 1, a dear friend and I took off for the Brigantine Wildlife Refute, above Atlantic City, on Absecon Bay.  To our intense shock, ‘reparations’ of the refuge are still proceeding — to the effect that we could not enter, nor drive even to Gull Tower #I nor Gull Tower #2.

A biologist, who required our identification of snow geese, regretfully but firmly did not allow us to proceed.  Enormous red trucks zoomed and roared everywhere.  The official revealed that the truckers complain to her, “Those PEOPLE [meaning birders] are CRAZY!” Yes, indeed.  Guilty as charged.  All who travel to the Brig are there to experience wildlife where the wild creatures had always been plentiful and safe!

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Crows and a VERY FEW Snow Geese, on a normal Brigantine Winter’s Jaunt

Leeds Eco-Trail, a ‘board’walk, was all that remained available in this shrine frequented by New Jersey’s most committed birders.  In winter, we make pilgrimage there for snow geese beyond counting, for tundra swans and sometimes even the rare trumpeter swans, and all the winter ducks.

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Bufflehead Male by Brenda Jones

We took our disgruntled selves down to Church Road in Absecon, where any number of  avocets had pranced and preened a year ago right now.  But, due to high water, the array of sandbars that had served those rare shorebirds had vanished absolutely.  All we could find on the unexpected lake were resident mallards, habituated to cars!  Squawking and demanding, the handsome green-headed ducks and their muted females surrounded us.

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Mr. and Mrs. Mallard in Full Breeding Plumage by Brenda Jones

 

Obviously, humans have not learned never to feed wild animals, since our food is junk food to them: As with the foxes of Island Beach, human food fills the stomachs of wildlings. But our offerings do not nourish appropriately; seriously subverting their immune systems.  In Absecon, very odd, almost comical hybrid ducks swam and begged with the traditional mallards.  I was too chagrined to take pictures.  Only Brenda can render mallards attention-getting!

My friend, Fay Lachmann, and I took ourselves next to Scott’s Landing, where NJWILDBEAUTY readers well know that Tasha and Alan and I spend many a merry Christmas.  Those magical days are rich in fellowship first; birding second; and Tasha’s elegant picnics, in sun (whatever THAT is) and new snow, among rare winged creatures, often beyond counting.

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Bleakness of February, 2017, Scott’s Landing, looking south.

 

February 2017 finds Scott’s Landing a wasteland; a travesty of the concept of refuge.  It’s always a shock, in hunting season, to see all those flat wooden images of various winged fowl, with numbers as to the size and shape of ducks and geese at so many yards. “The better to shoot you, my dear…”

It’s harder yet to come upon successful hunters at Scott’s Landing, triumphantly laying out bloodied prey upon these sandy, wood-rimmed stretches that pass for the driving area of the Landing.

When Tasha and Alan and I are there at Christmas, our ‘guests’  include elegant great egrets, all white and gold and sheer nobility; as well as stately, ashen ‘blue’ herons.  At dusk in warmer times, Scott’s Landing is ideal for rails; even bitterns.  In this season, we should have seen hordes of snow geese and heard their mellifluous ‘chattering’.

At Scott’s Landing, Fay and I saw no living creature.

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Blue Crab Remnants, Scott’s Landing

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Flood Remnants, Scott’s Landing

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Flood Detritus, Scott’s Landing

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Flood-scoured Scott’s Landing — Water does NOT Belong Inside These Barricades!

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Flood-Chewed Scott’s Landing — this is the LAND side of the barricade...

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Sea-level Rise Alters Scott’s Landing

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How Scott’s Landing Looked the Christmas after Hurricane Sandy

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Tasha O’Neill with our Christmas Picnic, the year of Sandy – note sunlight...

The Brig, (Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge) after Sandy was a far, far better refuge/antidote than was our recent experience.  In the picture below, note that post-Sandy sign announcing: TRAILS ARE OPEN. 

For Fay and me, not only were no trails open on February 1, 2017.  Even along the too-brief Leeds Eco-Trail, we could see but a smattering of snow geese settling onto nearby grasses.  And not the wing of a single other bird, in this renowned bird refuge.  I lay those empty skies and grasslands to all the disruption, since I received the notice: “Wildlife Drive Closures Begin Monday, September 12th.”  “WORK IS EXPECTED TO TAKE SEVERAL MONTHS TO COMPLETE.”

Purported road repairs (never evident so far) and major building are the norm at Forsythe “Refuge” now. And the truckdrivers wonder why ‘those people’ are ‘crazy’…

Post-Sandy — Far Better Than Now

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FOOT ACCESS ONLY — FOOT TRAILS ARE OPEN – THE BRIG after Sandy

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Snow Geese and Blue Skies and White Clouds!!! in normal times

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Snow Geese Undisturbed, The Brig in Normal Times

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WHAT ARE THE PINE BARRENS

Chatham Bogs, Constable Skies

Chatham Bogs, Constable Skies

A Princeton Garden Club has asked me to speak and show pictures on the Pine Barrens.  I have written my talk, with all its logistical details.  But my experience of the Pines is an idyllic region, dreamlike in beauty and Productivity.  It is currently seriously imperiled (five PIPELINES are poised to thread their way through the ‘Barrens’ as we ‘speak’, and our governor is all FOR THIS DESTRUCTION, 17-trillion gallon aquifer of America’s finest waters and acres beyond counting of flammable pines or not.)

This is a typical scene along Route 563 near Chatsworth, the Heart of the Pines.

Marilyn Schmidt, Savior and Proprietress of Buzby's General Store in Chatsowrth

Marilyn Schmidt, Savior and Proprietress of Buzby’s General Store in Chatsowrth

This is my long-time friend, Marilyn Schmidt, former scientist, former realtor, former tax assessor, author, publisher, illustrator, and keeper of the Heart of the Pines.  To learn more about the historic role of Buzby’s, which she saved in a tax sale and had named to the New Jersey and the National Registers of Historic Places, read John McPhee’s legendary The Pine Barrens.

Tomasello Windery Store at Smithville, above Atlantic City

Tomasello Windery Store at Smithville, above Atlantic City

The Pine Barrens even have their own winery, Tomasello’s, an outlet of which is visible from the Bakery at Smithville, near the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge, where NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I go all the time for major birding experiences.

An exquisite lake is Lake Oswego, ideal for kayaking, ringed with evergreens and marvelous wild plants, right down to the water.

Here's How the Brig (Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge) looked shortly after Hurricane (by any other name) Sandy!

Lake Oswego shortly after Hurricane (by any other name) Sandy

As the autumnal equinox approaches, I think of equinotical storms, not the least of which was the infamous Sandy.  Our state is still recovering.  Although the Brigantine and Lake Oswego and Scott’s Landing and Leed’s Point are very near Atlantic City, where Sandy came ashore — these are tough places, home of salt-of-the-earth people, and they were back on their feet remarkably soon.  Here are a few images that give only the slightest clue as to what the land and the people endured, from what they have recovered:

No Picnic Today,, Lake Oswego After Sandy

No Picnic Today,, Lake Oswego After Sandy

Brigantine Wildlife Refuge Closed by Hurrican Sandy

Brigantine Wildlife Refuge Closed by Hurricane Sandy

Barricade Realities, Brigantine After Sandy Chewed the Dike Road

Barricade Realities, Brigantine After Sandy Chewed the Dike Road

Foot Access Only

Foot Access Only

Raccoons Survived Sandy

Raccoons Survived Sandy

Wildlife Drive Taped Off

Wildlife Drive Taped Off

Scotts Landing Survived Sandy

Scotts Landing Survived Sandy

Scott's Landing Looking Due East

Scott’s Landing Looking Due East

We Survived Sandy - Tasha O'Neill's Traditional Christmas Picnic at Scott's Landing

We Survived Sandy – Tasha O’Neill’s Traditional Christmas Picnic at Scott’s Landing

And always a final visit to idyllic Leed’s Point, which lost many buildings, but kept its working fishing village spirit despite all.

What Remains at Leeds Point After Sandy

What Remains at Leeds Point After Sandy

One of the Signs and One of the Buildings We Lost at Leed's Point

One of the Signs and One of the Buildings We Lost at Leed’s Point

What the Pine Barrens are All About -- After the Harvest

What the Pine Barrens are All About — After the Harvest

All of this beauty survived one of the most savage storm in recorded United States history.  Only to fall, now, in 2015, to the forces of politics and greed.

Sun Shines on New Jersey – Thanksgiving Birding, 2014

On Thanksgiving Day, one of ‘The Intrepids’, Jeanette Hooban, and I chose many birds over one.

This seems radical to many.

Come along with us, and draw your own conclusions.

Entering 'The Brig' -- Lily Lake Road

Entering ‘The Brig’ — Lily Lake Road

It was snowing when we left Lawrenceville, –like the light, powdery beautiful flakes that swirl around in snow globes.  This was the scene as we drove Lily Lake Road off Route 9, below Smithville, at Oceanville.

Ducks to the Right of us, Ducks to Our Left

Ducks to the Right of us, Ducks to Our Left

Where Mergansers and Buffleheads Play

Where Mergansers and Buffleheads Play

The water to the left of the Brig’s entry bridge is where I saw my first truly wild mute swans, my first gadwall, and, this day, our major quests — hooded mergansers and their smaller look-alikes, buffleheads.  NJWILDBEAUTY readers know my camera doesn’t do well with birds.  So you’ll have to take our word for the fact that these black and white wonders are in this scene.

Leed's Eco-Trail Memorial 'Board'walk

Leed’s Eco-Trail Memorial ‘Board’walk

Water, Water Everywhere, Leeds Eco-Trail

Water, Water Everywhere, Leeds Eco-Trail

From the Leeds Eco-Trail, we watched a commanding great blue heron masterfully prowl his domain, successfully catching and swallowing more fish than we can count.  On the trail’s railing, a female belted kingfisher carried on in similar fashion.  A tardy osprey coasted above, lord of all he surveyed.  A massive and graceful female harrier patrolled the lower reaches.  We hadn’t even been in the Brig a quarter of an hour.

My Favorite Landscape, Preserved Wetlands

My Favorite Landscape, Preserved Wetlands

Great Blue Heron, Study in Alertness

Great Blue Heron, Study in Alertness

We took the all-too-short forested trail off Leeds Eco, which used to be complete all the way ’round, before sea-level rise, sustained too-high tides, all-too-frequent Nor’easters, full moon tides and hurricanes.

Lone Unknown Track, Forest Trail near Leeds Eco-

Lone Unknown Track, Forest Trail near Leeds Eco-

Sneak Boats with Rifles, off the Brig, in Absecon Bay

Sneak Boats with Rifles, off the Brig, in Absecon Bay

One of two sneakboats, a Tuckerton specialty of aeons ago, bristling with rifles, right off the refuge.  Atlantic City is behind this boat.  There was not a single bird, not even a gull, on this side of ‘The Brig.’  It is formally named the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge.

The birds were brilliant — hiding out on the opposite side.

Brant Hiding on North Side of Refuge, far from Sneakboats and Rifles and Death

Brant Hiding on North Side of Refuge, far from Sneakboats and Rifles and Death

The Dike Road Stretching East, toward Brigantine Island

The Dike Road Stretching East, toward Brigantine Island

This road was severely devoured by Hurricane Sandy, in two places.  It has been renewed, but with what I call Army Corps of Engineer Sand — a ghastly color, thick and coarse.  It is already washing away in clusters of runnels on two sides of the observation tower.  As though the sea, having once had its way with the Brig, is determined to return…

Inside the Refuge, we were also given one trumpeter swan – enormous wingspread, thoroughly black beak, no yellow lores; some tundra swans — smaller in wing, yellow lores, in a flock; and about a hundred snow geese, silent and grounded but thrilling.  This was one of those days when the entire beauty of the Refuge took us over, scene after scene.  The bird tally would not be kept.  The beauty tally is here.

We always go over to Scott’s Landing, near Leeds Point, after ‘Brigging’.  Here are some of the miracles of that stretch, part of Forsythe, but mostly accessible only by watercraft.

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Nature’s Artistry at Scott’s Landing

Dockside Grasses Scotts Landing Nov. 2014 016

Heaven and Haven for Waterflowl Scotts Landing Nov. 2014 017

Rail Central at Scott's Landing, though none on Thanksgiving

Rail Central at Scott’s Landing, though none on Thanksgiving

Jeanette Hooban Studies How to Shoot Ducks at Scotts Landing

Jeanette Hooban Studies How to Shoot Ducks at Scotts Landing

Tranquillity Base, Scotts Landing

Tranquillity Base, Scotts Landing

Scots Landing Timeless Waterways

Scots Landing Timeless Waterways

Last Rays Scotts Landing -- A Place Beyond Time

Last Rays Scotts Landing — A Place Beyond Time

Why Preserve

Why Preserve

Then we take a short, slow ride to Leeds Point, a true fishing village to this day.  Clams and crabs are the order of the day.  The Oyster Creek Inn, at this Point, knows how to cook fish and shellfish in the simple ancient ways, in a place that bustles in summer.  Not on Thanksgiving.

Sundown, Thanksgiving, Leeds Point

Sundown, Thanksgiving, Leeds Point

“Day is done, gone the sun…”

The moral of these pictures is, preserve every inch of open space in our beleaguered New Jersey, especially the watery inches!